Free Food (or almost free…)


With the high cost of living, any time we can find something for free, we get excited – even better if it is free food. But as my Daddy always said, “nothing in life is truly free.” Okay, he was just repeating someone else, but nevertheless, those words are still all too true. There are hidden costs in anything you get for ‘free’.


DIY Projects


Consider ‘do it yourself’ projects. Even if those DIY projects are completed with items you already have, that finished project still isn’t truly free. At some point in time you spent money for those things that were in your storage shed. It just didn’t cost you anything out-of-pocket at the moment. One of those mostly ignored costs of DIY is time and labor.



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I get ‘free’ food out of my garden every year – until you count the cost of seeds, the tiller and the gas I put in it, the hoe, the water, and my time and labor. (I could probably also dig deeper into the waste you tossed in your compost pile, but that is digging just a little too deep – I am sure you get my point.) In accounting practices, they have a line item called ‘depreciation’. If you were super serious about knowing what you spend, you could depreciate the cost of your tools. But you still have your time and labor.


As a frugal person, I understand Daddy’s concept and accept it as part of the price of living. Instead, I look at ways I can cut my costs down to pennies, instead of dollars, or no immediate out-of-pocket spending. And one of the first things I look at is our food budget. That is normally one of the most expense line items in a budget, next to rent and insurance. So, how do I cut those costs? Consider these tips, and see which ones work well for you.




‘Free’ Meat 


As a hunter, The Country Boy provides at least one-third, if not more of our meat. He harvests at least one deer a year, if not two or three. As I write this, he is prepping three wild pigs that a friend trapped and didn’t want to deal with. And there are still three more. He also hunts squirrel and rabbit, when he gets an opportunity.


With the deer and pigs, he provides backstrap, sausage (link, patty, Italian, Boudin, Summer, etc.), hamburger, pork chops, ribs, and with the smaller pigs, we have meat to smoke and make pulled pork. When you consider the cost of shells, time, labor and the tools and supplies (casings, spices, etc.) he purchased to make a final product, it isn’t ‘free’, but eventually the upfront costs will be depreciated. Considering the cost of these items in the stores, we are saving a ton of money each year.





‘Free’ Fish


The same works for fishing, as it does for hunting. There is nothing like a delicious piece of grilled fish, and although I don’t pay for the fish itself, I do my ever-lovin’ best to keep the Country Boy OUT of the fishing section. Those baits, lures, rods and reels can definitely add up!




‘Free’ Fruits and Vegetables


If you want these, you really need to grow a garden. Yes, there is still the cost of tools, labor and seeds or starters (like fruit vines and trees), but not only are these more cost-efficient, they are also healthier and taste better. To further cut the cost, try learning how to grow heirloom vegetables and save the seeds. That alone will make the next year’s garden more cost-efficient.


It will also increase your sense of well-being when you realize all you have done to provide food for your family. Do you or someone you know have a talent for welding? Try making your own garden tools. The Country Boy made me a hoe several years ago, and it is the best one I have ever used. (Read…I can’t destroy it, no matter how hard I try!) The only thing he purchased was the handle – the head was made out of an old disk blade that someone had given him.





‘Free’ Garden Shares


Yep. This is probably an example of free food you don’t want. You have that one neighbor that just cannot seem to understand that one or two zucchini plants are plenty. Instead, they always seem to plant seven or eight of them, and then start sneaking up to your door in the dead of night to leave bushel baskets of that green monster.


Go ahead. Accept the offer with grace, and make zucchini bread and muffins. Eat some, then freeze the rest. Cut them up for a salad one day, and fry them the next.


The only ‘expense’ you have with those are time and labor. If your bounty includes other fruits and vegetables, can them. And just remember, it is just as easy for you to share your extra vegetables with them – even if you have to get up in the middle of the night to do it.







In Biblical times, most farmers were encouraged to leave some of their crops in the field to allow the poorer people to come in, finish the work and feed their families. Closer to the end of the season, most farmers have all they want and their pantries, cellars and freezers are stuffed to the max. This was an excellent source of free food.


Consider asking local farmers and gardeners if you can finish the harvest for them, with payment being all the fruits and vegetables you can pick. If you do this, please be considerate so they will be willing again the next year. Pick everything you can without destroying the plants or soil. Do NOT leave trash, cigarette butts, or a mess behind. Do NOT just drop overly ripe produce in the rows.


If necessary, bring an extra bucket to toss in the unusable items, then either put it in your own compost pile, feed your pigs, or offer it to other farmers that could use it to feed their animals or for their compost pile.




This isn’t something we do, as we don’t know enough about what is safe to forage and what isn’t. Yet. But there is edible food in the wild – mushrooms, fruits, nuts, and other things. If you know what you are doing, the only cost is time, labor, and the tools you use.





There really isn’t anything in life that is free, but you can definitely cut your costs with free food. While you are whipping up a delicious meal with some of those ‘free’ food items, take a minute to think about other ways you can shave pennies off your budget. After all, as Benjamin Franklin reminded us, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” And I definitely like saving every penny I can.


Do you have any money saving tips? Let us know – we all want to save as much as we can!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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